Marathons: So who's running the show?

The Athletics Federation of India’s (AFI) recent decision to ban marathons and road races not authorised by them may polarise top-class runners in the country. Now, the Sports Ministry which wanted to overturn the AFI’s decision and had accused the apex athletics body of trying to monopolise running has approached the Competition Commission of India (CCI) seeking the its intervention in what it thinks is a dictatorial anti-competition stance by the AFI.

The running boom in India, and especially the city, took off after the success of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. It was the stature of the event and the fact that it was so inclusive not just a top-class event for top-class marathoners, but one that counted amateurs as an important part of it transformed the running scape in India.

The AFI diktat, of course, is more applicable to top-class athletes and national runners; it would, by and large, not affect recreational runners who come in an hour, or even two or three hours, after the top runners have crossed the line in marathons.

What this current imbroglio does, though, is throw athletes into a quandary. It is hugely confusing for state and national athletes. Which event do they participate in? Should they take part in a road race that does not have the AFI blessing? Would they even know which events are ‘authorised’ or ‘unauthorised’? Who would be able to tell them?

Having said that, road races need to be well-organised, with good safety measures, well-charted routes and an accent on giving athletes an international running experience. Giving events a political overtone or simply hosting them for publicity is counterproductive and does nothing for grassroots sports.

Indian sporting history is littered with examples of how warring sports bodies have taken a toll on athletes, deprived them of avenues, and leached them of motivation. Let this problem be sorted out at the earliest, so that our runners do not suffer the same fate as so many before them.

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